Entertainment Value

Restored Blair Theater sign by AppleOne Media in Belleville.
Restored Blair Theater sign by AppleOne Media in Belleville.

Discount ticket sales help push Blair Theater attendance over 11,000 in 2015

By Deb Hadachek Belleville Telescope editor

Read the entire paper online each week here – www.thebellevilletelescope.com

Few businesses can slash their prices to end up in the black.

But for the Blair Theater in Belleville, $2 Tuesdays and $3 Thursdays is a strategy that helped push movie attendance to more than 11,400 in 2015— 3,000 more than the previous year, and close to double the attendance in 2012 and 2013.

“It was the best thing we’ve ever done,” says Blair manager Jenny Pachta.

Discount movie nights, financial support from Republic County and the City of Belleville, and support from private donors brought the Blair to break-even status this year, says Rich Schintler, president of the volunteer board that oversees the theater.

“A few years ago we were really struggling—losing a little bit of money every month,” Schintler says. “We cut every expense we could possibly cut and it got to the point there was nothing left to cut and we were still losing money.”

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Schintler said the help of a business consultant who works with non-profits helped the Blair board see that a broad range of financial support is necessary to keep the credits rolling at the community operated entertainment venue.

The City of Belleville made a $3,200 donation to the Blair to help support movies shown

each week during the summer recreation program. Republic County Commissioners made a $1,000 donation, and county officials helped the theater qualify for a different tax status that substantially reduced its property taxes, Pachta said. In addition, the theater has received grant funding from the Duclos Foundation and Republic County Community Foundation.

“We bring nearly 1,000 people a month, not just from the local area but from surrounding counties,” Schintler says. “The $2 Tuesdays and $3 Thursdays have made it an event to go to the movies. We have people who come every week—and they don’t even know what movie is showing.The theater now hires part-time employees to run the movies, with assistance from volunteers.

“It’s something they do for entertainment.”

Studio Cut

Whether movie-goers pay $2 or the theater’s regular ticket price of $5 for all ages, the lion’s share of ticket sales goes to the studio that makes the movie, Pachta says. The theater’s profit comes from concession sales—and the board keeps the price of popcorn and pop lower than most theaters, Pachta says.

“Because we give such a high percentage of the ticket sales to the studios, we decided why not bring the price of the tickets down on nights that weren’t very busy,” she says.

The ploy worked. Tuesdays and Thursdays used to have the lowest attendance of the week. These days, it’s not unusual for a 100 people to show up on Tuesday for a popular movie—and one memorable night, more than 200.

The Blair mostly sticks with PG and PG-13 rated movies, and rarely opens a new movie.

“That doesn’t seem to affect our attendance much,” Schintler says. “If someone is really passionate to see a movie like Star Wars, they may go somewhere else and see it—and still come here to watch it a second or third time. Otherwise, most people are happy to wait until it’s here.

“We don’t follow national trends on the most popular movies,” he adds. “I like action movies, but those don’t show particularly well here.”

Schintler credits Pachta for her work to schedule movies. The Blair, like many theaters, scheduled movies through a broker for many years, but decided a couple of years ago that Pachta could do a better job picking movies for the Blair than the broker, he says.

“It’s not always easy,” he says. “Not every movie is going to show well here. Sometimes there aren’t any great movies out. Other times there’s 10—and then you have to pick and choose.”

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Live performances

Popular live events at the Blair include the annual Wichita Children’s Theater performance each spring. Pachta invites school children from Republic, Jewell, Washington, Cloud and Nebraska school districts.

“It gives kids a taste of a live performance,” she says. “The actors sit down and talk to the kids, and their can ask questions and find out how live theater is different from the movies.”

The added bonus Pachta sees is that area schools make Republic County a destination for elementary class field trips. They tour local sights like the Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings, and bring students to a special moving showing to cap off the day.

The Turning Pointe dance studio hosts their annual recital at the Blair, and Republic County music and forensic events are also staged at the theater. Schintler says Cunningham Cable makes its fastest speed internet available to the theater, which he hopes might facilitate live streaming broadcasts and business meetings in the future.

Both Pachta and Schintler puzzle that live performances are not well attended.

“I know they do well in communities like Beloit and Concordia,” Schintler says.

“Our mission is to provide entertainment and cultural and enrichment and the arts, but a lot of what we’ve offered has been poorly attended.”

Continue to improve

Blair volunteers continue to work to finish a green room under the stage that can be used for actors in live performances, Schintler says. There’s talk of a second movie screen in the building next door that the Blair owns.

But for now, Schintler’s goal is to build a capital fund for long term maintenance.

“Belleville really has a much nicer theater than it can afford,” he says. “It’s nice to be in better shape financially, but in the big picture there’s still a lot of work to be done. Projectors don’t last forever, and when (our current projector) was purchased it was $70,000. If the furnace or air conditioning go out, we need a fund.

“We are definitely headed in the right direction, and I feel good about now planning for the things we need to plan for.”

Find showtimes here – www.theblairtheater.com.